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SEC Headlines – 6/23/11 Part Four

1.  Ex-Kentucky hoops star Brandon Knight thinks he’s going to be part of a really good NBA draft class.

2.  Ex-Tennessee basketball player Scotty Hopson is trying to “focus on the process.”

3.  Vanderbilt had three players make Athlon’s All-SEC football squad.

4. has ranked the SEC’s best special teams units…

5.  And the league’s best punters and kickers.  Up next: The SEC’s best long-snappers.

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SI’s Davis Examines Some Of The NBA Draft’s Top 40 Prospects

Seth Davis of has posted a series of quickie breakdowns for some of the top 40 prospects in this year’s NBA draft.  He interviewed six NBA scouts for their opinions on the players and then posted the following about the ex-SEC’ers on the list:

Tobias Harris, Tennessee – “He should have gone back to school and lost some weight (223 pounds).  He can rebound it and push it like a point forward, but his shot is a little funny”

Scotty Hopson, Tennessee — “He worked out for us and was just OK.  His size, his length, his athleticism — it’s all good, but sometimes he floats like he doesn’t care.”

Enes Kanter, Kentucky — “He’s a big, strong kid and he knows who he is.  He’s a center and he’s going to bang you.  He just plays so hard.”  (Sidenote — Too bad we never got to see any of that at the college level.)

Brandon Knight, Kentucky — “He’ll be one of the top picks, for sure.”

Chandler Parsons, Florida — “He should really be a 4, but he wants to play the 3 so he’s kind of a tweener.  I watched Florida a bunch last year and I didn’t come away liking any of them.”

Trey Thompkins, Georgia — “We had him for a workout and, boy, is he soft.  He’d rather catch it at the elbow than get on the block.  When you’re his size, that’s not a good thing.”

Davis did not give reviews of Georgia’s Travis Leslie.

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Pearl Doesn’t Want To Be A Distraction For UT

Ex-Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl is still living in Knoxville.  For that reason, some in the media will continue to turn to him for information.  Like why he didn’t attend the opening night of Knoxville’s much-hyped summer basketball league:

“I care about the guys and I respect them, but I don’t want to be a distraction and I have to respect the new coaching staff.  I’ve stayed in touch with Scotty (Hopson) and Tobias (Harris), and Tobias invited me to attend the (NBA) draft with him, which I consider an honor.”

Pearl is also having to abide by a clause in his separation agreement with UT that prevents him from interfering with Cuonzo Martin’s team or serving as a distraction to the players.

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UT’s Hopson Thinks He’s “A Solid First-Round Guy”

While most NBA experts believe Tobias Harris will stay in the NBA draft and be selected in the first 20 picks, his Tennessee teammate Scotty Hopson is viewed as a second-rounder.  Perhaps a deep second-rounder.

Just don’t tell that to Hopson.

Hopson’s advisor — Larry Marshall — told The Knoxville News Sentinel that he asked Hopson for his take on his draft stock this week.  “He believes he’s a solid first-round guy.  If he thought he was a second-rounder, he should go back to school.”

Hopson has turned down “12 or 13″ requests from NBA teams to conduct private workouts.  Instead, he’ll take part in an NBA combine this weekend in New Jersey.  Hopson will have to pull his name out of the draft by Sunday night if he’s to return to Knoxville for his senior season… and that doesn’t appear likely at this point.

For the record, Marshall doesn’t buy into the projections that show his protege falling into the second round of this year’s draft.  “Everyone knows that in another year, Scotty is a lottery pick.”

At least Marshall and Hopson think so.

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UT Cancels Basketball Trip To Italy

Tennessee has cancelled a summer trip to Italy for its basketball team.  Two reasons were given for the switch: travel and Cuonzo Martin’s duties at the World University Games.

According to athletic director Mike Hamilton, the trip would have been difficult from a travel perspective with the Vols also now heading to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational in November.

In addition, Martin is scheduled to serve on the staff of Purdue’s Matt Painter when he coaches the US team in the World University Games in China in August.  Training will be held for that event in Colorado from July 30th through August 8th.

“It will be better to wait a year for the trip because then we can get a feel for our players,” Martin said.  “When you take those trips, you’re also building team camaraderie.  It’s always a beneficial trip, playing five or six games and getting extra practice.”

For those reasons, it would seem to actually make more sense to take the trip this year, as Martin is laying the foundation for his program.  But let’s face facts — you don’t back out after you accept a position coaching a US national team.

Also, with Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris possibly NBA-bound, the Vols might have had a hard time even filling out a roster this summer.

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SEC Headlines – 4/26/11 Part One

1.  Stephen Garcia is still listed as the #1 quarterback (along with Connor Shaw) on South Carolina’s post-spring depth chart.

2.  This year’s NFL draft looks to be short on Tennessee Vols.

3.  As expected, UT basketballers Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson are testing the NBA draft waters.

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So Far So Good For Martin And New UT Team

While many Tennessee fans continue to wonder how someone named Cuonzo Martin came from off-the-radar to Knoxville, it sounds like the coach’s players are giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“It’s been pretty smooth,” center Kenny Hall said of the transition from Bruce Pearl to Martin.  “We’ve all had our own individual meetings with the coaches and we’re all pretty confident what they have in store for us.  It’s a brand new everything, a brand new slate.  It could be beneficial to everybody.”

That’s one reason Vol players might be happy with Martin’s arrival.  It’s no secret that last year’s team had chemistry issues.  That much was admitted by Pearl.  And some of those chemistry issues were tied to playing time.  Therefore, guys who felt they should have been on the court last year may look at Martin’s hiring as an opportunity to grab the the minutes they were lacking.

Cameron Tatum says that Martin’s background is also aiding in the buy-in process.  “With his personality, I think a lot of the players are optimistic and eager to see what we can do under his lead and the things that he brings to the table.  He has that background of being where everybody on this team wants to go (the NBA).  I think everybody’s excited and opportunistic about the opportunity to play for somebody that has been there and done that and willing to listen and see what he can teach us.”

Make no mistake, however, Martin’s ability to get his players — and Vol fans — to believe might be out of his control during his first year.  If Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson return, UT should have a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament next season, which would do wonders for buy-in.  If those two don’t return, well, then Martin will be trying to win folks over with a roster that might be one of the worst in the SEC.

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Vols Won’t Win The Press Conference With Martin, But…

Tennessee’s hiring of Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin hasn’t done much to cool fan anger over the dismissmal of Bruce Pearl.  The early results are in in the form of a non-scientific poll at The Knoxville News Sentinel’s website:

Happy with the hire: 25%
Not happy with the hire: 36%
Reserving judgement: 37%

When just 25% of the fans voting approve of the hire, that’s not a real good sign.  One prominent UT booster — blogger Clay Travis — tweeted this: 

Odds Bruce Pearl returns to NCAA Tourney before Cuonzo Martin goes for the first time?  Nearly 100%.

Funny.  If Pearl doesn’t get a lengthy ban from the NCAA for destroying the UT program — a nugget that surprisingly few Tennessee fans accept.

Even Pearl’s son Steven — who played for the Vols this year — had a rough tweet regarding Martin:

All I can do is laugh and say good luck sir

Of course, Steven has seen his dad’s fall from grace up close and at least has the excuse of a wounded heart to blame for his lack of decorum.

So we at are going to jump in with both feet on this one too, right?  I mean, we questioned Tennessee’s hire of Lane Kiffin and ripped the hire of Derek Dooley.  We must really be prepared to toss some darts after this one, right?  Right?

Wrong.  Hey, if nothing else, Martin is the first coach in three tries (including Kiffin, Dooley and himself) to actually have a winning record as the time of his employment at Tennessee.  That’s a start.

But here’s why this hire isn’t as bad — in our view — as many folks seem to think:

1.  Martin showed class in returning to Springfield to meet with his team face-to-face about his departure.  That’s becoming a rarity these days and it shows character.  Considering Tennessee’s current mess, there’s nothing wrong with the Vols hiring someone with a little character.  Richmond’s Chris Mooney would have been a perfect fit for UT had “major” NCAA violations from 2007 not come to light.  Staring down the barrel of the NCAA’s elephant gun itself, Tennessee couldn’t afford to take any chances.  Martin has a clean resume.

2.  Martin is a B-level, mid-major candidate which is about all the UT administration could hope to land in the Pearl aftermath.  NCAA sanctions.  NCAA probation.  A questionable roster.  High expectations in spite of those last three points.  Now toss in a lame-duck AD.  Why would a “name” coach volunteer to take the Volunteer job at this point in time?  They wouldn’t.  And UT floated trial balloons at the Jamie Dixons and Sean Millers of the world.  It’s not Martin’s fault that he was in the “and the rest” category of UT’s candidate list.

3.  Martin won the Missouri Valley regular season title last year — a first for the school — and he was named the league’s Coach of the Year.  His resume is short — three years in Springfield — but so is Shaka Smart’s at VCU.  Smart’s had a helluva run after miraculously getting into the NCAAs, but pre-tourney, the names Smart and Martin would have been squarely side-by-side on any list of young, mid-major coaches.

4.  His Missouri State players had only good things to say about their outgoing coach.  Again, that’s not always the case when a coach splits.

5.  The Gene Keady coaching tree has sprouted many successful branches: Bruce Weber, Kevin Stallings, Steve Lavin, Matt Painter, etc.  And Keady has glowing praise for his former protege.

Also, when you’re hoping to keep two current players from turning pro, it doesn’t hurt to hire a fiery, late-30s, African-American, former NBA player as your top guy.  Here’s guessing Belmont’s 58-year-old Rick Byrd would have had a tougher time keeping Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris in Knoxville.  No offense, but 30 years at Belmont doesn’t give a man much street cred among 19- and 20-year-olds.

So, from the standpoint, no, Martin is not Mike Anderson, the man Arkansas snared for the only other opening in the league this year.  But Tennessee couldn’t grab an Anderson-esque candidate in its current situation… and among the fallback, B-level candidates, Martin seems to have as many pluses as anyone.

And it bears repeating — at least this guy’s got a winning record as he moves to the foothills of the Smokies.

Does that mean he’ll win 70% of his games on Rocky Top like his predecessor?  Likely not.  But the Vols weren’t in a position to hire anyone else who could “guarantee” that kind of success.

Some links:

This writer bashes the hire and says AD Mike Hamilton will likely be gone soon.

Martin survived a scary bout with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

This writer says Tennessee made a prudent choice in Martin.

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Both Tennessee Basketball Signees Could Seek Release

Both of Tennessee’s 2011 basketball signees could attempt to play elsewhere following Monday’s dismissal of Bruce Pearl.

Guard Kevin Ware from Conyers, Ga., told the Knoxville News Sentinel on Monday that he faxed a request to be released from his national letter of intent to the NCAA and UT. Ware said he was unhappy with Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, who assured Ware on March 6 that Pearl would remain as UT’s basketball coach.

I think the AD really messed everything up,” Ware told the News Sentinel.

As it turns out, Pearl messed things up by committing another violation that very same weekend when the Vols played host to Kentucky. That violation, along with “recent non-NCAA related incidents,” helped lead UT to dismiss Pearl and his staff.

Ware left open the possibility of still attending UT, posting on Twitter Monday night that he might consider the Vols depending on which coach UT hires to replace Pearl.

The status of UT’s other signee, point guard Chris Jones, appears to be up in the air. Jones, who earlier this season was dismissed from a prep school in North Carolina, attended Memphis (Tenn.) Melrose High School before this year.

Jones could seek his release from UT as early as Today, according to a report from WHBQ-TV in Memphis.

If both Ware and Jones attempt to play basketball elsewhere, that would leave UT without any signees for the 2011 class. The Vols also lose five seniors from this past year’s team, and underclassmen Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson have yet to decide if they will stay at UT or turn pro.

There’s also the question of whether anyone will transfer from the program. Several players indicated they might do so in a recent story by Wes Rucker of

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SEC Headlines – 2/10/11 Part One

1.  Billy Donovan believes his team had a “a level of respect” for South Carolina going into last night’s game (a 79-60 Gator blowout in Columbia).

2.  Georgia fans are wondering if the school needs to go to a new breeder to find its next Uga mascot.  (Hey, they take Uga seriously in the Peach State.)

3.  Mike Bobo — Georgia’s most-criticized assistant coach — is being lauded as the Dawgs’ best recruiter.

4.  John Calipari wants to find more shots for DeAndre Liggins.

5.  A Super Bowl party at Calipari’s house paid dividends in UK’s Tuesday night win over Tennessee.

6.  Coach Cal also decked his team out in boxing gloves at a recent practice.

7.  The new Wildcat Coal Lodge — UK’s basketball dorm — is being built with coal money and features coal right in the name… so why not include a coal exhibit right in the lobby?  (I’m sure recruits will love that.  And, in case you’re wondering, the 32-person dorm does house some non-athletes in order to earn it the NCAA’s stamp of approval.)

8.  Darrin Horn says Florida “really hurt” his team in the paint last night.

9.  Carolina’s coach also says there is “no magic formula” to fixing what ails his Gamecocks. 

10.  Tennessee needs to come out fighting when the Vols visit Gainesville on Saturday.

11.  The Vols — who once led the nation in free throw attempts — aren’t getting to the line very much in SEC play.

12.  Bruce Pearl says Kentucky was able to take advantage of Scotty Hopson “because he was limited defensively” due to a bum ankle.

13.  Kevin Stallings’ Vanderbilt team will host Alabama tonight and the coach says, “You can’t do anything but admire a team that exceeds expectations, and (they) really got off to a slow start.”

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